Is Bourne the new Bond?
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Jason Bourne is hard as nails, and he is back in another gritty installment that does not disappoint. In fact, you may find yourself gritting your own teeth and balling your fists as Bourne fights tooth and fingernails, again and again, for his own survival. Matt Damon instills this Robert Ludlum character with a familiar but indefatigable hardness that is not only believable, but practical and insightful. Bourne, after all, is a sign of our times. Bourne epitomizes the essence of our time: innovation, flexibility and sheer speed. By comparison, James Bond is a clumsy 20th century objet d'art.
After the Bourne Ultimatum, an excellent fast paced action flick directed by Paul Greengrass, many movie audiences will be disappointed if the franchise is put to bed. So soon? Is a Bourne Resurrection likely? Given the epilogue to the third episode, it’s unlikely. But stranger things have happened on the big screen, and the consensus must be that audiences worldwide want more of Bourne, and less of Bond.
Although Bond was impressive in Casino Royale, most intuitively felt the 007 franchise is trying very hard to remain relevant. Bond is reinventing himself, in much the same way as Batman and Superman have. Do audiences have the stomach for a reinvented Bond? It’s possible, of course, to refresh Bond. The problem though is that Bond belongs to a Cold War era. The world has simply become too much, too complicated for the likes of James Bond. Perhaps with a new Q, this flaw could be addressed, except, isn’t it odd that Bond always needs a paternal scientist to set him up. Bourne is entirely self sufficient, entirely independent. Worse, Bond’s approach to the world no longer works. The Us Vs Them mindset is no longer a functional paradigm. It’s too simplistic.
In the modern era, there just aren’t overt Cold War foes like there used to be. In the globalised Flat World, many systems are integrated, and so even identifying your adversary becomes problematic, and a foe – who is usually also covert – can under certain circumstances become a friend and allie. It is clear that in our era, the enemy lives and moves among us. It may even come to be a group within our own government or community. Because of competition for jobs, success etc, the ‘enemy’ can be someone who we need to outwit or outplay in the daily scheme of things. This may be someone of our own tribe, who lives next door, and drives the same car. This is a remarkable departure from the exotic bad guys who pursue grand world domination scenarios and speak with strong accents in Bond. In a very real sense, Bourne demonstrates to what extent the enemy can lie within – including those who may purport to be friends and allies.
Good news, perhaps, for Bond, but bad news for us, is that if Peak Oil alarmists are right, the world will contract, which means countries will diminish backwards, behind their borders, the walls will go up again and the mid 20th century paranoia’s will likely return (think of popular panic along the lines of nuclear annihilation, world war, the threatened rise of communism and other ideologies). The consensus is that this austere period is either imminent or already happening. The laziest predictions put these nasty catastrophes no further away than the year 2015.
Unfortunately, this time round, all these threats are a lot more credible. In the 21st century the stakes are so much higher. The world’s population is much larger, the resources the world consumes on a daily basis is staggering. There are more major powers (Russia is resurging, along with China, India and all of Europe), more nuclear armed countries than there ever were, aggressive and tech savvy terrorists around the world, and add to that world weather that is out of whack, increasingly wobbly financial systems and a world that has invested itself on energy (and resource) systems with no future.
I’m not sure about you, but for me, Bond just doesn’t cut it any more. For one, patriotic loyalty is becoming a questionable stigmata. Although patriotism always seems a good idea at first, it is a hollow roar in the patriot’s head when the fiercest find themselves in trenches – whether real or metaphorical – defending their ‘idea’. What, after all, is a patriot? A flag waver? A jingoist? A nazi? It must be possible to love one’s country without having to demonstrate that love by fighting against another country. Is it not possible to love one’s country by investing oneself in that country; by farming it, by finding, building and developing sustainable systems, by protecting the organic systems already there, and moving towards a new urbanism that binds communities together? But it seems even in 21st century, patriotism continues to be defined as: the willingness to go to war without question. If that is true then patriotism is synonymous with being a moron. And Bond, patriot that he is, echoes this sense of duty to her majesty without any critical reflection of what that duty serves.
Bourne is a sign of our times because who he is has been erased from his memory; but, all credit to him, he still cares about finding out who he really is, and changing himself for the better. There is that integrity, in the cinematic sense, which also prevents him from making random friendships – including with the opposite sex – because these actions (he must know) puts their lives at risk. Bond’s mission prerogative is first and foremost to charm and entertain, and second, to get the job done (because he must). Bourne’s priorities are far more austere: he is trying to survive, and while he can, pursue the problems that are at the root of his present difficulties.
Bourne’s is a real world connectedness that movie audiences would do well to emulate, and this consciousness needs to be integrated into the popular mindset beyond the present day. As the resources in the world wither away, we will be called upon to be resourceful as human beings have never had to be before. We can do it, but it will require a mindset like Bourne’s, and all the integrity we can muster.